Sensei Kazutaka Otsuka,
grandson of Hironori Otsuka, graciously agreed to
let me interview him while visiting our home in
Lewisburg, Tennessee. This interview took place just
a few hours before he conducted the winter seminars
at our dojo on Friday, November 2, 2007. We talked
about many things and I tried to ask questions that
would be of interest to those who have just joined
our organization and also to those who have been
involved in Wado Ryu for many years. Jenny Carter
Mrs.Carter: One thing that
interested me, looking at your biography on the US
Eastern Wado Ryu website, I saw that when you were a
child, you rebelled against taking karate.
Sensei Kazutaka Otsuka: I
started karate when I was five or six years old but
didnít stay a long time. I wanted to quit because I
didnít like so much karate. So I said to my father,
ĎIíd like to quit.í He said, ĎOkay, but you have to
do something else in the martial arts. So, he put me
in Iaido. So I continued at the Iaido until I became
a university student, 18 years old.Ē
C: What is that martial art? I
am not familiar with it.
O: Iaido is Japanese
swordsmanship, practice with a sword. They do just
kata, the forms.
C: Is it hard with your own
child? What is his name?
C: Your son is 12 and really
involved in martial arts? And heís not taking any
other martial art [except Wado] now?
O: No. This year he studied
basketball because heís really tall. He wanted to do
something besides karate. Finally he became a
C: A young student in our
class, Myra Walker, wanted me to ask if you ever did
any other sports besides the martial arts.
O: Yes, I did. When I was a junior in high school, I
was on a team of football [soccer]. I was doing that
for three years. After I went to high school, I
started club wrestling.Ē
C: This is regular wrestling,
not sumo? (I Laugh)
O: Yes, I was doing this for
three years. I became 2nd place in
Tokyo. If I won another game, I could be regional
tournament [champion]. Unfortunately, my opponent
was [the] senior student. So, we know each other.
(We both laugh)
C: He knew all your moves,
C: When you came to this
country, didnít you go to college here?
O: Yeah, I went to Colorado
University to study English in 1994. Then six months
later, my wife came to my class. (Laughs)
C: Oh, you met her there?
O: Yes, yes.
C: Where did she come from
O: From France.
C: Sheís French! What is her
C: Thatís a pretty name. I like
that. Has she ever done any martial arts?
O: The last two years before
coming to France, she did karate with the childrenís
class. Finally, she was interested. Unfortunately,
we decided to move to France. After we moved to
France, there was no more time to spend on karate.Ē
C: Well, it takes a lot of
time. We were talking before about getting tired and
rebelling. You probably had to do more classes or
take more classes than most children in this country
would take. How much were you working out when you
were a little boy when you were in Wado?
O: When I was a child, there
wasnít any dojo for my Wado Ryu style. My father
always was taking [me] to some other places which
were pretty far away from [my home], so it was
pretty difficult to do.Ē
C: So he was taking you with
him to these dojos?
O: Yeah. Yeah. I was too young,
so sometimes I had to stay until the adult class
finished. See it was a little difficult for a [small
C: That was very hard!
O: See that was also the reason
C: I understand! That kind of
explains things. That was hard on you. How much do
you work out now?
O: Well, right now itís kind of
difficult to find a place for the training. I do
training by myself every morning about an hour and a
half. And I have two classes, two times a week. I
have a regular class now. I work out aboutÖ
C: You mean you are teaching
O: Yeah, about three hours each
and on other days right now, like a Monday, I train
with the Tae Kwon Do people. Because Iíve got a
friend with the Tae Kwon Do people and they let me
use their dojo for free lessons, so I just join and
do the fighting things. Like on Friday, thereís
another karate dojo which is taught by the world
champion of karate. This French guy who is a friend
used to be world champion.Ē
C: So you go to his class? You
like to be a student in other words sometimes?
O: No, I have no choice right
now, because there is not so much a place for
training myself. So [if I become a student] still I
can keep training.Ē
C: So you would prefer to be
C: What would you say is the
secret to developing the skill level in your
family? Many of us have worked out with your father
and with you. Most of the people here look at you
and say, weíre not to that level, and I guess most
of us spend too little time, thatís our problem. I
have to say some of itís got to be inherited from
your father. (He smiles) Some of it may just be the
knowledge, working with the people youíve worked
with. Did you get to work out with your grandfather?
A No, I did not because of the
reason [we talked about before]. My grandfather was
also traveling around all the time; he didnít have
C: And you didnít get to work
out [with him]?
O: No, itís
C: Oh it is.
O: But when my father and my
grandfather had a demonstration, I also went to see
their demonstrations, so I have [vivid memories] of
C: Thatís good. And I guess you
did get to work out with your father some as you did
start to train. Did he give you special attention?
O: No, he
treat me as a normal student, especially much
worse than a normal student. So, he didnít teach me
any technique. So, when I was training in his class,
he sometimes said, ĎYour shoulder is too much up!í
Thatís it! (We both laugh) So I donít know how
much up! Right side or left side (he laughs some
more). Itís always like that.Ē
C: It is always like that with
parents teaching their children.
O: So of course I have to
figure out myself why he said that every time. Just
one word; there must be something wrong.
C: Of course you were much
older then. When my son was young, he would get
very upset when he missed a move in a kata. He put
that pressure on himself, and that was just with a
local school. Did you feel that pressure?
O: No, because when I was a
child I didnít do karate, so I didnít have that kind
of pressure until I became 17-years-old and did
karate again. But from 17-years-old there everyone
is looking at me as 3rd generation of
Wado Ryu. Thatís what made pressure; everybody
thinks Iím the one thatís going to be some day the
third generation and ĎWhy doesnít he know any kata?í
(He laughs and I laugh with him.) But, I didnít
think about so much to take care of Wado Ryu in that
time, just to keep training for myself to find out
what is Wado Ryu, not to think about too much to
take care of the family job. Thatís helped me a lot.
C: Do you have any brothers and
O: I have one sister and one
brother. Especially my youngest brother, he started
karate before me. He also said he isnít interested.
My father was upset and he said, ĎIf you donít like
it, then you quit. And, he quit next day and he
never came back. (Laughs) My sister always keep
going and coming out and going and coming and is not
so much serious.
C: Does she still practice?
O: Right now yes. After I moved
to France she was the one that had to take care of
the childrenís class in Tokyo. Tokyo is a big town,
too much town.Ē
C: Do you like living in
O: Yeah, right now especially
the south of France is always sunny, nice weather
everyday and also [not] far away from the ocean.
Itís a really nice place.Ē
C: So do you plan to stay
there? Is this just a temporary thing?
O: Well, we donít know yet.
Even moving to France, I didnít know how I can start
karate again or maybe I canít make it. We didnít
think about that fact. We are lucky. The French
Karate Federation, they were interested in me and so
they let me into the karate world again.
C: Are you saying there arenít
that many Wado people in France?
O: They have 5,000 students,
but in France, the system is if you want to teach
karate you have to have a license from the French
Karate Federation, plus you have to have a National
Sports Instructor Diploma. Those
O: So, luckily, the President
of the Karate Federation in France, he said I can
give you 6th Dan French Karate
Federation, so already like that I can start as a
C: Something Iíve always wanted
to know, Why is your last name sometimes spelled
with an ďHĒ and sometimes not?
O: Well, see my name is Otsuka.
In countries here that speak English, ďOHĒ is the
sound of ďO.Ē My father thought it was much closer
to the Ohtsuka name. So he put in the ďOH.Ē In
Japan, they donít recognize that sound on the
passport, only one ďOĒ in Otsuka.
C: So you use Otsuka [and he
C: So you could spell it either
way, but the sound would be closer to oh?
O: Yes. Even in France the
people have a problem. My father uses an ďHĒ but why
not me? (He laughs.)
C: Changing the subject
totally, what do you thinkÖ youíve been here several
times to the United States.
You came with your father before. What do you think
is the difference in the way American karate
students are and the way they are in other
countries? Is there a difference?
O: Hmmm. Well, especially here
is associated with American karate styles sometimes.
I can see in such studentsÖ really they like to use
a weapon like that sometimes, but on the other hand,
even in those kinds of situations, the group of Wado
Ryu is still traditional here. That, for me, is
C: I think we try very hard.
O: Especially Mr. Patterson,
[Johnís] father, is American and kept all exactly
like the Japanese old system. Thatís really amazing.
And in the other part of America there are some
Japanese instructors that are teaching like the old
C: So theyíre doing a pretty
good job, too, of keeping it the same?
O: Uh huh.
C: In France or England, would
Wado students look the same as what we are used to?
O: For me, everybody does the
same Wado Ryu but eachÖeven in Japan each dojo has a
different character of Wado Ryu. Itís a little bit
different. So, like that each country has their own
way of doing Wado Ryu; here, too, because it depends
on the instructor. See like [when you] teach
karateÖto copy is impossible. Karate reflects the
character of each person. That one has to recognize.
See, otherwise itís just like uhÖ Normally, in
karate, kata has two different ways. Kata is a form.
The one is a form, each can be changed into many
different shapes, thatís also form (makes molding
motions with hands like molding clay). The other
form is just like a mold, so to make
something, you put it in
and make a shape and another one, the same, always
same. (He imitates pouring liquid into a mold over
and over.) You canít change anything. It has to be
just for one reason. Wado Ryu doesnít want to make
that kind of form. It has to be flexible.
C: I see. That does go with
what we understood from your father and your
grandfather. I believe I remember he called kata a
O: Yeah. Yeah.
C: You think of it that way?
O: Yes, I think so.
Even me. My kata from 20
years old, 30 years old, and now, every detail is
different. When I was young I sought (especially
Wado Ryu) to try not to use any wasted energy or
wasted motion, or to relax more. So, when I was 20
years old, I heard through my father always the same
thing [to relax]. So I thought ĎItís already
enough. Iím relaxed.í But it wasnít! Because at 30
years old, I realized I had too much muscles. So I
quit those push ups, sit-ups, and those things when
I become thirty years old. Then, after pass 35
years old, I thought, ĎOkay, now Iím getting relaxed
more.í But again, when I become 40, still I feel I
kept some tension in my shoulders, my body. So, like
that [at] every age you can help yourself, try to
make more relaxed.Ē
C: Mike Burgess wanted me to
ask you, as you get older, obviously some things you
canít do as well and you get injuries. I think the
word he used was metaphysical. Are there other
things about the spiritual or emotional part of you
that makes up for the fact that you canít do some of
the physical? Maybe the
knowledge that you have?
O: I think [with] a human
being, everything [is] possible with how you think
about what you do, even how much you get injured
[in] your body. Still the mind can change; you can
create energy to go through those difficulties. In
karate itís really important to have that idea. With
that you can pretty much go through a difficult
situation. So, even me, I thought Iím strong enough.
I like kumite for competition; No not competition,
but training with other students. When I arrived in
France, I started karate again. After I spent four
months in France I found finally a dojo, again [I
was] training. I went there to the dojo three times.
The third time when I was doing kumite, by accident
I was fighting against a really tall guy and the
tall guy was holding an arm in front of my head like
that. So I enter to give punch (demonstrates a body
shift going under extended arm). [Unfortunately] the
corner of his little finger struck the corner of my
head. My head goes backward and I got hernia.
C: A herniated disk?
O: Yes, when I got whiplash,
suddenly I felt electricity going all through my
arms. But, in 3 seconds, I just shook my hand and
it disappeared. I thought, ĎItís okay.í [Keep]
fighting again. But after I finished the training,
during two days I felt a weird tingling feeling in
these two points here, so that never disappeared
entirely in two days. I say, ďThatís weird,Ē and
decided to go see a doctor. I went to a hospital and
they took x-rays and the doctor said, ďYou need
surgery immediately. Otherwise you are going to have
a problem with respiration.Ē
C: Breathing and everything,
O: Right. Okay.
O: (nods) Uh huh. I changed my
disk into the artificial disk.Ē
C: Oh, okay.
O: Surgery was okay, but during
surgery I donít know, during surgery or something
else, I kept [getting a] tingling feeling or
numbness in both arms and the left side of my body.
After the surgery I couldnít walk during three
months. I could walk, but really slowly like a
ninety or hundred year old man. I was really walking
slowly. The doctor thought I could never come back
to karate again. I believed in myself, inside,
itís okay itís okay.
Still I can do it. I can do it.
So that my ideas made me [or] made my body change
when I thought about it little by little.Ē
C: So you think thatís the most
important thing; itís just having the will to do it?
O: Yeah. Uh
huh. Even the doctor..
[so many times the]
doctor said, ďMr. Otsuka you should not move after
the surgery.Ē But still I was training like
(demonstrates slow hand movement and we both laugh)
old man like really slowly like Tai Chi. I kept
C: You were talking about
relaxing. I think thatís one of the things that Iíve
always admired anytime I watched you or your father
when he was here. Always the relaxation and trying
to copy that, trying to get more relaxed, because I
think Americans, especially, have a tendency to
really be like boxers. We all do that to a certain
extent and trying to relax more is one of the
O: Yeah, thatísÖ the
relaxation, I think, is relating to the whole body,
physically. Itís not only to relax
yourself mentally. If you
canít relax your body, you canít relax yourself. So,
the body itself also has to be flexible to be able
to relax more. So, like that [what] I see is mostly
Occidental people are pretty much stiff everywhere.Ē
(Starts laughing loudly.)
C: Yes, yes, I know, itís true.
(We both laugh.)
We stop to speak with my son
and husband when they come through the room. Roe
Carter withdraws diplomatically,
and my son Bill stays to hear the remainder
of the interview. We talk about how hard it is being
the teacherís son.
O: Right now I have difficulty
with my son, also.
C: Yes, I was wondering how
that was going. (I explain to Bill) His son is 12
and he said he is a champion.
O: The kumite champion of
France for his age and weight. They have different
weight divisions for fighting.
C: For my newspaperÖ.something
that would appeal to the publicÖ.from the point of
view of the public, how is our system different from
O: Well, first the system of
Wado Ryu did not originally come only from karate.
That is because my grandfather
start from jujitsu. After the Father of
Karate he studied and then afterward he mixed
jujitsu and karate. From that point also Wado Ryu is
a little bit different from others. And my
grandfather also taught not to use too
much muscles to move your
body. Thereís another way to create energy. Thatís
all he wanted to teach, which is sometimes pretty
similar to another style of martial arts. Like, uh,
especially swordsmanship of Japan. I never heard of
any Samurai that did pushups, sit-ups, or muscle
training. But, still, they could move very quickly
against an opponent. Thatís important to be able to
react. Because what they trained was just one
thousand times, just swing the katana, the sword.
Morning, afternoon, night, thatís it. They were
training. That creates more relaxed muscles than
just see how much you can have muscles. So Wado Ryu
is also the same. Try not to develop an amount of
muscles. Try not to use too much muscle to move your
C: When you first were talking
about your grandfather, I didnít get whether you
said that was his idea or what he learned from
Funakoshi, about the relaxation.
O: My grandfather went to
study under Founder Sensei but Founder Sensei was a
specialist in kata. He knew the order of each
movement of kata, but he didnít study, or he didnít
know, or he didnít want to teach, I donít know, but
when my grandfather asked what was the meaning of
each movement he didnít give any answer. So my
grandfather wondered why kata has to move like this.
Sometimes he went to visit another Okinawan sensei.
Sometimes they could give some answer; mostly it was
very difficult to find out. Finally, after [he broke
away from Funakoshi Sensei] and created Wado Ryu, he
joined the idea of jujitsu to kata. Thatís when he
found out this movement must be similar to
applications from some technique of jujitsu. That
was his job, to find the meaning of each kata.
C: Thatís why we try to always
know what we are doing in kata, not just go through
O: Yes, maybe so. Even for
that reason Wado Ryu is a little bit different from
other karate styles.Ē
C: The body shifting or
taisubaki seems to be different from other types of
martial arts. Itís more subtle.
O: I donít know subtle.Ē
C: Whatís another word for
that? Not as large a movement, just more (I motion
with my hands.)
O: Minimum movement to be
effective. Not only Wado Ryu, all sport is kind of
the same. When you become professional, they use
minimum force to move themselves. In sports they can
find out when they become professional. On the other
hand, in karate or martial arts, you have to study
from the beginning, how you have to twist your hips
or how to locate your center of body, which is never
taught by any other sports. That is why karate is
sometimes too difficult for some people. Like
baseball, if you have a ball and two gloves, even if
you donít have any knowledge, still you can start to
play. But with karate, without knowledge, "Letís
play karateí, to punch
each other is very dangerous. Thatís karate. Itís
good to study from basic and also difficult for some
people to study.
[Studying] karate is something
similar to life, normal life. In general, when you
study some subject in school you donít study from
something very difficult. You always start [with the
basics], then little by little step up and find out
that you can [apply this]. Kata is a reflection of
C: Do you want to be teaching
more than you are now?
O: Right now I mostly
concentrate on [doing the seminars on] the weekends.
C: You do that a lot?
O: Right now I have a seminar
about once or twice every month. The system of
France is about two days, eight hours of seminars.
Also I travel to England sometimes and other
countries too. Like Norway. Next year I am going to
the Netherlands [and] after that, Germany.
C: My last question would just
be why is karate important? It is important in
every aspect of your life, is it not?
O: Yeah, especially in my
family job. Itís in my blood, so whatever I do, Iím
thinking like karate. When you do a fight against
someone, you have to read the opponentís mind or
there are many ways to feint a person or to try to
attract the other person coming closer and then find
some good timing to attack. Many things you can use
for normal life. Thatís alwaysÖ when I do something
I always [think], ď[What] if I do [like] karate in
this situation? In life, maybe itís a similar timing
of this technique.Ē Like kata always!